Scientist warns we may struggle to curb coronavirus spread without closing schools for older kids

Ministers may be forced to close schools to older children if coronavirus (Covid-19) cases continue to increase at the current rate, a scientist has warned.

Professor Neil Ferguson said the NHS would soon be unable to cope unless the spread of the disease was stemmed. His modelling led to the original lockdown in March.

He said there were currently 8,000 people in hospital with coronavirus. That’s around a third of the peak earlier this year, and numbers are continuing to rise.

Further action

He said the restrictions on households mixing may not be enough, and further action may be needed:

If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.

Of course, nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.

Professor Neil Ferguson (Parliament TV/PA)

“It is a worrying situation,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He went on to say:

If the rate of growth continues as it is it means that in a month’s time we will above that peak level in March and that is probably unsustainable.

We are in a critical time right now. The health system will not be able to cope with this rate of growth for much longer.

His warning came as South Yorkshire became the latest region to enter the tightest Tier 3 restrictions in England. This is following Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Prof Ferguson said it would be another week or two before it became clear whether the stricter measures would have an impact on case numbers.

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